Sunday, 31 May 2009

Red Lion pub, Avebury

The Red Lion Pub in Avebury stone circle has been visited by Most Haunted although its better claim to fame is that it is the only pub in the world that resides within a stone circle. As Derek Acorah states in his book, the Red Lion contains what used to be the village well. This now has a glass top and is the most popular table in the pub. The legend is that florrie was murdered and pushed down the well, and her ghost can be seen rising out of it. The Red Lion also has many other ghosts that have been detected by mediums. This may have something to do with the mysterious landscape that surrounds it. I made some enquiries about the ghosts and received this response:-

"Hi, This is Mike -----. My Dad was the Landlord and licencee of the Red Lion way back in the sixties and seventies. There was a well at the entrance to the dining room which had a glass cover over it for safety. That area of the pub was reputed to be the site of a sacrificial altar used by the Druids and there were stories of ghosts but none were seen. Prince Charles, who was doing an archaeological dig at Silbury Hill nearby came in to the pub for lunch on several days. One day he asked my dad if he would lift the glass so that he could toss a coin into the well for luck. To which my dad replied "not even for the King of England" and he cited safety reasons which the prince accepted."

I have sat at the table to drink my hot chocolate on a rainy windy day at Avebury and nothing like this has happened to me. But the place is well worth a visit.

Ashridge Estate

This weekend I went to the National Trust's Ashridge Estate. This is a large area of woodland with some chalk downland and hills that lead to Ivinghoe Beacon. The Beacon views are superb although I was perplexed by the sight of what appears to be a white lion carved on a hillside (in contrast to the usual tradition of white horses). The woodland is mainly beech, not as ancient as Savernake because beech trees only live about 250 years..although there's still something about the way the dappled sunlight plays through the trees that makes one think of wood nymphs. In the book Spirit of Trees, by Fred Hagenender, he says all trees have different spiritual qualities and beech supports contemplation and clear thought. The trees are conducive to gathering one's thoughts and coming back refreshed. After doing my 7 mile walk circular from the Bridgewater Monument, I drove to the Pitstone Windmill which is supposed to be the oldest windmill in the British Isles. The windmill (speaking of windmills generally) is of course iconic from most of my favourite horror films - particulary Frankenstein - and in his commentary for Sleepy Hollow Tim Burton explains how it has become an iconic image in horror films and how he used it in Sleepy Hollow.

The Pitstone Windmill does indeed look like a film set. It wasn't open when I went there although it is supposed to open on certain sundays in the summer, so I may go back and see it again. On the way through the woods I did not see any fairies but managed to spot what I believe to be a speckled wood butterfly.

Stills from Frankenstein (1931)

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Old Wardour Castle

I was partly inspired to visit Old Wardour Castle after seeing a picture of it by the artist Anne Sudworth, who is one of my favourite fantasy artists and landscape painters. So following Anne's advice to make sure I go to the Old Wardour rather than the new one, I made my way there through some very thick woodland. The drive took me down Hazeldean Lane, which was through a forest of huge pine trees and thick ferns, and the castle itself was very secluded and in a beautiful location. This is partly due to its being landscaped in the 17th century. It is the most romantic ruin I have been to. In some respects it resembles Minster Lovell Hall near where I live, although on a much bigger scale. It is very intact with some ornate architecture. The castle is licensed for weddings and was used as a set in the Robin Hood Prince of Thieves (Kevin Costner) movie.

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

Inside the chapel, it is very quiet and the sound of the wind can be heard howling around outside. If I was to place bets on which of the sites I have visited are most likely to have ghosts, I would choose this one for sure.

The English Heritage handbook 2009 claims one Lady Hungerford cooked her unfortunate husband in the castle's ovens. Another Lady Hungerford is known to have been kept prisoner in the Lady Tower by her own husband for 4 years, during which she was fed by kindly villagers from her great window.

There were some suits of armour on display in the Priest's House. The crypt is a very historically important site as it contains some very rare examples of coffins which have death masks attached. These are made shortly after death and moulded on to the bodies. They are indeed very lifelike. However it is not possible to approach them too closely. The reason for this is there is a gate which keeps people out although they can see a great deal from outside. The gate was put there in Victorian times in response to the ghoulish behaviour of certain Victorians who would apparently insert a stick into a hole in the stone coffins so they could withdraw it to taste the embalming liquor!

The marble figures on the tombs in the chapel impressed me most, they are very intact.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Corfe Castle

This is now my favourite crumbly castle! The ruins are very romantic and the towers are leaning in all sorts of impossible positions. It's got a sort of fairy tale quality. It looks amazing viewed from the ground, as it's on a hill, and is equally impressive when you are at the top and can view the Dorset countryside.

The only ghost I have heard of is a headless woman who has been seen there, but when we visited it was a beautiful day, the sun was high in the sky and there were gently cumulus clouds drifting by. The castle was very peaceful. Although not spooky as such, it was a very beautiful and atmospheric location which the Lonely Planet Guide describes as "a cinematographer's dream". The best view was from the National Trust tea shop and the village of Corfe is also beautiful and has an old worlde quality. There is a steam train which goes from Swanage that takes people in and I would like to go back to experience the journey in via train.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Hammer House of Horror

Well this was interesting!

We went to Bray studios first, which is a short walk away from Oakley Court. This house which was built in 1859 is the original Hammer House of Horror. When Hammer used it, they were able to hire it cheaply because it was run down and there was rain pouring through the ceiling. It is now being used as a luxury hotel, although you can just go in there for a coffee, which is what we did.

This house featured in the Hammer House of Horror TV series, as well as many of their horror films, and also the Rocky Horror Picture Show where is was Frank-N-Furter's castle. When I went in a recognised many of the features in particular the iconic staircase and the ceiling where the lift comes down, from the Rocky Horror film. The gargoyles are also iconic, having appeared in opening credits for the 1970s TV series. It has been used for many other films including St Trinians.

Dickens' Birthplace Museum

On the way to Portsmouth, I stopped by at this small house which is in the middle of a very modern council estate, and is where Charles Dickens was born in 1812. Although this place is not haunted (as far as I know) I feel Dickens deserves an honourable mention on my blog because he loved a ghost story as much as anyone else.

This museum contains many interesting objects, and is owned by the council. Unfortunately there is no up to date guide book and they do not appear to maintain it as well as could be.

The green couch is where Dickens died.

Portchester Castle

This week I went to the coast, on May Day, and on the way I stopped at Portchester Castle near Portsmouth. I arrived about 10 o'clock which is when the castles opens (although the grounds open earlier) and I was hugely impressed. This is generally considered the most intact Roman fort in Northern Europe. Only the walls and turrets are Roman, the rest has been fortified over the century, but the walls are vast and 6 metres high with the battlements intact.

I was persuaded to join English Heritage after visiting this and now have a guidebook to all their sites.

I especially enjoyed walking around the walls overlooking Portsmouth harbour, as the sea mist was coming in from Portsmouth and this made the castle hugely atmospheric.